Gun lobbyists, manufacturers, and gun rights supporters would like you to believe that firearms had nothing to do with Newtown. They would like nothing better than to change the subject to video games, mental illness, or anything else that gets them off the hook so they can get back to the lucrative business of selling firearms and ammunition. We must not let them.
Gun control opponents have slowly been shifting the conversation away from guns. “Stepping up enforcement of existing laws and improving school safety . . . makes sense,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, before adding, “But our greatest challenge may be improving our mental health system and addressing the mentality of those who commit mass killings.”
Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants society to have “a broad-based conversation” about “what were the drugs of all these people been involved, whether it’s been in Connecticut or Colorado . . . how they were being impacted from a medical standpoint.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said that “new laws will do us no good if they burden responsible gun owners and small businesses but fail to stop sick people before they turn to evil.”
The NRA has called for a national database of the mentally ill, while Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, suggested that be thinks “video games are a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”
This is nothing but misdirection. Now, it’s absolutely true that mental health parity is a huge problem in this country, and addressing this woeful gap in our health care system should be a top priority. However, mental illness is not why 31,672 people died from firearms in 2010. Mental illness should not take the blame for the fact that, as of Thursday evening, 1,470 people in the United States had been killed by guns since the Newtown shootings. Twenty-three of them were children.
In Kansas City this month a boy picked up a five-shot revolver he found under a coat on a chair and accidentally shot a girl named Trinity Ross in the head. She died a week later, just four years old. In Chicago, an honor student and majorette fresh from performing at the inauguration of President Obama was shot to death by a gunman as she took shelter from the rain. Her name was Hadiya Pendleton, and she was 15. In Memphis, Alfreddie Gipson was killed after he found his father’s gun on Christmas Day, 10 years old. In New Haven, just last week, a store owner named Abdul Rawas was shot and killed in a robbery by a teenager who then shot and murdered Lonnie Starr a few hours later in an attempted hold up. The list goes on and on, and each person who died had a face, a story, a life, and loved ones they left behind. None of their deaths had anything to do with mental illness, and there are thousands every year just like them.
The NRA has all kinds of excuses. Criminals will find ways to get guns. We have a culture of violence inspired by video games. Responsible gun owners don’t let this happen. Now they have the mentally ill to blame as well, and conservative lawmakers are using this as an excuse to back away from stronger gun control measures. How wonderfully comforting it must be for gun rights activists and lobbyists to place the blame somewhere else. It ought to be, since they’ve been doing it for decades.
But there’s a single thing linking all these deaths; each was caused by a firearm. After a hard two years of one horrific mass shooting after another, Americans finally seem ready to embrace change. A new UConn/Hartford Courant poll showed national support for each of the five gun control measures polled, including an assault weapons ban (57 percent in favor) and banning clips with more than 10 bullets (53 percent in favor). A December Gallup poll found 58 percent in favor of stricter gun sale laws, compared with 43 percent in 2011. There is broad support for President Obama’s gun control package, and many state legislatures are swiftly moving towards tighter controls.
I hope that once this debate is done, conservatives like Gov. Perry and Sen. Corker continue to support broad mental health parity at all levels, even outside the context of gun control. But for now, the American people shouldn’t let them change the subject. We must keep the focus where it belongs, even when it’s not comfortable to do so. We owe the thousands and thousands of Americans who die from firearms every year nothing less.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.